A Letter To A Writer Who Doesn’t Want To Hear It

Jose Vilson Jose 5 Comments

Dear burgeoning writer,

Please don’t take this the wrong way, but we need to talk. It’s the same talk my editors had to have with me after my first few submissions, and one that I never had to have again afterwards. You see, for writers that care, the act of writing is a personal craft, and I can’t deny how hard it is to get your writing critiqued because it is a piece of you. Whether it’s a personal poem or an objective article, you put in all this time into your piece, hoping that you’ll get the same exact feedback that all your friends do:

“Oh, you’re such a great writer!”

“That was awesome. I’m really excited that you wrote this piece.”

“Your performance of the piece was stunning. I feel it right here [points to heart or temple].”

So, when you came to me asking me to give you feedback, I was under the impression that you wanted me to give you constructive feedback, the type I’ve learned how to give, and the type I succumb myself to constantly. When I asked these individuals to edit my work, we were both under the assumption that, whatever talents I might possess as a writer, I would work hard to push my writing to be better, because there’s no such thing as a perfect first draft. They didn’t always qualify my writing with “good” and “wonderful” as a whole (or bad and terrib, and the compliments come in the form of statements and observations.

I might think I hit the nail on the head when I first wrote a piece, but the editor  will come back with a critical question that will make me think I hit the nail sideways instead.

And here’s the trick: the writing is personal, but the editing is not. A good editor can look at a piece and see whether it most clearly expresses the point the writer was trying to make, or plays well to the nuances and writing style of the author, and turn those observations into questions and comments that the author can take back with them as they plow through that particular piece (and future pieces)! I didn’t understand that when I first heard / read feedback, but, after reading pieces I did even three years ago, I notice the absurd flaws I made in my writing.

I wish I had an editor then.

I’m not saying the editor is 100% correct either. Some editors don’t come in with the same vision you do, or may not be attuned to your experiences that you’re sharing. However, if that’s how one person reads it, you can only imagine how many more will interpret it the way that one person did. Thus, when editors edit, it’s more important to take it as a lesson, even when you disagree with the edit. Good editors aren’t editing to tear you down as a writer, it’s to help you see something in your piece that you haven’t.

Whenever someone tries to edit my piece, I always note how well they’re doing it based on the quality of the feedback, even when it hurts. And that’s OK. After you’ve gotten critiqued well and often, you get better. And so does your writing. Don’t take it personal.

Jose Vilson, who thinks it gets better

About Jose Vilson

José Luis Vilson is a math educator, blogger, speaker, and activist. For more of my writing, buy my book This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education, on sale now.

Comments 5

  1. Monise

    And this is where I need to be before I seriously considering acting on one of the book ideas I have….not quite there yet since writing is VERY personal for me.

  2. Tyrone M.

    It’s so important to remember that the feedback is not a criticism of you, but of the piece that you’ve written. It’s not to hurt you, but to help you get better. How do you go about choosing someone to give you that critique? Do you choose the same people every time?

  3. John Norton

    As one of the people who’s been privileged to serve as your editor: Powerful writers provide the juice; we help strain the pulp out. No juice, nothing much for us to do. You got juice.

  4. Post

    My people, thanks for all the awesome comments. Tyrone, I addressed this on Twitter, but yes, I guess I choose my editors. Some of them I ran into by accident, and others I ran into through my writing. In all, the editors I’ve worked with I did essentially choose. That is, until my book gets published, and from there, we’ll see.

    John, I’m hoping it’s more orange than grapefruit.

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